Earth is lost.
Humanity's home torn from its dying grasp.
Forced to run without answers. Without hope.
The attrition of the human race had begun.
"Everyone, let's pick up the pace," Sergeant Hills barked, the desperate batch of survivors scrambling to quicken their steps.
The underground bunker shook - another deadly barrage pounding against the domed barrier that shielded the compound.
The whole group succeeded in moving faster, one uniform blob with a hundred legs. Their muscles tight. Breaths held. Minds strained. Strained not to think about the impending doom showering from above.
Tom Morgan was bringing up the rear of the mass, his three-year-old daughter held snugly against his chest with one arm; his free hand gripping his son's tightly. Jason, only five, kept up with his father's speed despite his shorter legs. He stumbled, forearm bruised and jeans torn at the knees.
Tom instantly stopped, dropping to one knee beside his son. "Jason, get on my back," he ordered, wishing he had the time to offer reassurance. Knowing he didn't.
"Dad, I'm scared," Jason admitted in his timid voice.
"I know you are," Tom soothed gently, pressing his forehead lovingly against his son's. "We don't have time to rest. We have to move."
Sergeant Hills stopped, now well aware that Tom and his family were falling behind. "What are you doing? We have to move."
"I know that!" Tom snapped back, his gray eyes giving a flash. "Jason, I need you to keep being brave. Can you do that?"
"Good. Now get on my back."
Small, Jason's weight wasn't too much for Tom to carry. His son climbed onto his back, legs saddled around his waist. Grunting to his feet, Tom took off racing over the shaky catwalk to make up for lost time. Dust and mortar fell from the ceiling.
They were almost there. In front of them was an Ark - humanity's first and only space craft. Built to explore and settle the galaxy. No one ever knew they would prove to be humanity's only chance to survive. The door leading inside had already been opened, the desperate crowd funneling in. The soldiers were last to enter.
The room was cramped and dark. Tom was grateful for a moment's reprieve to catch his breath. Maybe he should have taken daily exercise a little more seriously, decided it didn't much matter now.
He dropped to one knee. Jason climbed off, but stuck to Tom's side like paste. Both of his children remained still - too terrified to offer so much as a quiet inhale. He wrapped his arms around the two of them, knowing that he had to be brave for their sakes. They weren't out of this yet.
Not by a long shot.
A laser flashed through the room, scanning for possible diseases brought on board. Tom prayed no one would come up positive. To see someone forced off the ship -
It was a death sentence.
Scan complete, a green light buzzed over the exit door. Tom sighed to himself, thankful they would all be going inside.
The relief was short-lived.
Sergeant Hills turned his back to everyone, speaking into his radio. There was no way to tell what he was saying, but Tom couldn't shake the cold hands of death that crawled up his back.
Sergeant Hills turned back to face the group, the mask of a good solider cracking for just a moment. "Everyone, please proceed through the exit. Once across, form a line on either side of the hall."
As the survivors started to make their way into the next room, a lone woman stepped up to the Sergeant.
"Excuse me, but what of the next group?" the woman asked, her voice shaky from nerves. "When will they be arriving."
"Let's keep a move on," the Sergeant instructed, using that moment to detach from the situation. He shifted his attention to the lone woman. "There is no other group, ma'am. The bunker on the surface was just destroyed. We're all that remains."
The woman inhaled sharply. Too shocked to say anything. Her expression suddenly blank and brown eyes flat. Tom's heart broke for the woman. She now understood what everyone else already knew.
There was no hope. None of them were going to make it out alive.
Tom wanted to offer her words of reassurance, let her know that everything would be alright. What could he say? The truth was he couldn't say anything to ease the pain.
The situation was utterly hopeless. Their world on fire. Cities in ruins. Once living, breathing, thinking men and women and children now nothing more than ash. None of them were prepared for such an event. How could they be? They could have spent their entire lives preparing and still never be ready.
With an effort, Tom swept away his thoughts. He couldn't think like that. Not while his children were dependent upon him for hope. They'd already lost so much...he couldn't let them think that this was the end.
A middle-aged man in uniform, hair thinning on the top, came marching down the hall, a team of armed soldiers with him. The group of newly brought aboard survivors were evenly split between either side of the monotone gray hall.
"Welcome aboard the Aquarius. I am Chief Petty Officer Miles Vogel," the man greeted, his voice crisp, but with an underlying gentleness to it. He may have been a military officer, but he hadn't forgotten how to reassure a room full of terrified, unseasoned civilians. His skill all the more remarkable considering the circumstances.
"We just need to do a check of your personal belongings, and then we shall escort you to the designated safe zone. We are preparing to launch and are asking for your cooperation."
Without wasting further time, the armed soldiers began to search through what little belongings the survivors had. Most of their searching resulted in pat downs and inspection of the clothes.
Tom looked down at both of his kids, the terror that froze them ghosting in their eyes. He leaned in to give each one a tender kiss on top of the head.
"You both are being so brave," Tom said with calming assurance. "I just need you two to be brave a little longer."
The ground tremored as the hulking underground doors opened. Roaring with life, the Aquarius rose from the ground like a slumbering beast surging from the ocean's depth. The protective dome shielded it from the bursts of flame and superheated plasma that rained down from the space. Without reason, the salvo stopped.
"Divert all power to engines and plot us a course out of range of that ship's weapons," Captain Sutherland ordered, his voice cool as he commanded from the Captain's chair.
He had enjoyed a successful career as a naval captain. Today his skills would be put to the test.
"Captain, incoming bombers," a crewman yelled from behind.
"That's why they stopped firing," Captain Sutherland murmured to himself gravely. "Let's hope these things were built to be as tough as they look."
In the distance, other Arks could be seen rising from the ground, most still protected by the barriers bubbling over the landscape -
The crew gazed upon the screens in horror as fellow Arks were shredded to pieces. The Arks turned into clouds of gas and flaming debris. The crew was paralyzed.
"We don't have time to stop and doubt," Captain Sutherland barked, rising to his feet. It was time to use his skills in command to their fullest. "We will mourn their deaths later. Right now, we have a responsibility to the passengers aboard this ship. While I am Captain and you are my crew, we will strive to keep those people alive until our last breath. Is that clear?"
One by one his words offered his own strength. One by one his crew resumed their duties. Moments later the the bridge was once again a hive abuzz with activity.
"Sir, we've just crossed the barrier. We're completely exposed," a crewman informed, doing their best to remain calm. "Enemy bombers will be here in sixty seconds."
"Military thrust. Hard to port," Sutherland snapped, bracing himself as the ship lurched into a sharp turn, pinning everyone hard against their seats.
"Maintain speed and course," the Captain ordered, rising to his feet. Despite appearances, his own heart was racing faster than the ship was moving. "Prepare to fire all batteries."
He said that as though the vessel was a weapon of war.
There were two guns.
"Thirty seconds." The crewman continued to countdown. Then their voice became urgent. "Another set of targets on scanners. Coming in from the opposite direction."
Captain Sutherland swore silently to himself. "It doesn't matter; continue our current heading."
"Twenty seconds." The crewman paused. "Sir, the new set of targets..." He looked up from the display. "They're friendlies."
"To all escaping Arks, this is defense group Aries," a woman's voice came over the speaker; her voice sent waves of hope across the crew. "We'll deal with those bombers. Just get our people to safety."
"All right, everyone, you heard the lady," Captain Sutherland smiled. "Let's get out of here."
Tom sat huddled in the corner, Kayla and Jason breathing anxiously at his sides. Arms around both, he gazed out the viewport - his first time looking out into space. He should have been beaming with excitement and possibility. His first time seeing Earth from space should have taken his breath away -
It did. Just not for the reason he wanted.
A giant ball of fire and smoke.
So much death. So much loss. How could there be a point to any of this? How could something so terrible happen? Why was it happening?
Shifting his gaze from the burning graveyard that was once his home, Tom decided he'd rather look upon hope. Other Arks had made it too. Some far enough away from Earth's gravitational ring to jump to hyperspace, others, like them, almost there.
It would have been almost beautiful, the light of the pale orange rings that glowed around the ship's aft engines. The distant stars that twinkled hundreds of light years away. There was a whole galaxy out there to explore and discover. Only, now, those still remaining weren't searching for forgotten planets and dazzling new life.
No, now they were desperate to find a new home.
"All personnel," Captain Sutherland's voice's boomed throughout the ship. "We are preparing to jump. All hands stand ready."
Their first jump. Another occasion that should have been written down in the record books as a date to be celebrated.
The Captain's voice could be heard counting down over the comm. Only a few more seconds to escape - against the odds, they might actually make it -
Tom winced as a nearby Ark was obliterated, one of the attacking ships that loomed in space finally catching up to them.
Tom got only a brief look at the ship, it was unlike anything he could have imagined...
The Leviathan of space, looming in the background. Menacing in its reality that it came to Earth, used the world as its canvas and reshaped the lives of billions, all for reasons they might never know.
A pair of beats later and the Aquarius jumped.
All of it disappeared.
In reading this book I was surprised at how easily I became enraptured with the characters, plot, and story line. Wesley Campbell did a fantastic job at being able to create an adventurous story, with different cultures, and perspectives. His writing made you question your own personal standing on morals and what exactly defines right and wrong. Guaranteed to be different, unique, and thought provoking. This book was a pleasure to read and I would recommend this series to anyone who desires to expand their imagination, or wishes to watch characters grow, develop, and change.
The first installment in this new sci-fi book series was a rollercoaster of emotions. It had me caring deeply about the fate of each character and the difficult choices that they had to face. If you want to read a book that is full of grit and futuristic realism, a vast universe to imagine with great detail, and a story that is built the exact opposite way that a hallmark story is then this book is for you.